The Problem with Plastic

Where do you think the world’s BIGGEST garbage dump is? Hint: It’s not on land! And nope, we didn’t blast all our garbage off to space to float among the constellations. It’s actually got a more watery home than you might think…

ocean, plasticThe most enormous garbage dump you could possibly imagine is smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – right between California and Japan. So, just how big is it? Get this – it’s bigger than all of Ontario!

  • The “Trash Vortex” is made up of almost 100% plastic (scientists think it’s somewhere between 3 and 6 million tonnes)
  • Lots of it comes from things that are thrown off of ships, the rest is from land
  • You don’t even have to live close to a beach for your garbage to end up in the ocean

Plastic litter and the stuff in landfills can be carried thousands of miles away by the wind, ending up in lakes and rivers. The rivers, which eventually lead out to the ocean, take the plastic along for the ride. The currents and tides continue to move the plastic around the ocean. Some of it might get beached, but a whole lot of it is ending up in the trash vortex.

The vortex got its name for a reason. It’s what’s known as a high pressure zone, a slowly spiraling whirlpool that pulls in winds – and plastic. A bunch of sea currents also come together here, bringing with them most of the plastic floating in the Pacific coasts of Southeast Asia, North America, Canada and Mexico.

Our addiction to plastic causes some MAJOR headaches for marine mammals:

  • Animals usually mistake the colourful floating plastic bits for their food, like plankton. Dead seabirds have been found with everything from cigarette lighters to toothbrushes in their stomachs!
  • Plastic bits are like chemical sponges, soaking up nasty chemicals like DDT. Then they get eaten by fish, and the fish are fed to humans. Next thing you know, you’ve got a chemical cocktail in your own belly.

Is outta sight outta mind?

The man-made Trash Vortex was discovered in 1997 when a sailor was heading back home from a boat race in Hawaii. Next thing he knew he’d found himself in the middle of a giant cauldron of plastic soup. He ended up wandering through it for a whole week! And this messy mass is only going to bet bigger unless we do something ASAP.

So why don’t we just get some nets and start cleaning? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Brita (the water company) are going to give it a try this summer.

First, they’ll map it, then try and figure out the best way of cleaning it up, if it’s even possible.

You might not be able to jump into your sailboat and head out there to help clean up but there are still lots of things YOU can do:
  • Use your regular cups plates and cutlery next time you or your parents host a party instead of plastic ones.  If you really can’t talk mom and dad out of the disposables, at least get them to use biodegradable ones.
  • Make sure all your plastics end up in the recycling, to reduce the chances they’ll end up in the vortex.
  • Encourage your parents to buy things made out of materials other than plastic.
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  1. This is so sad and awful. We use dishes here not throw away stuff. We also recycle. Is there anyway to get all of the plastic out of the ocean? We have to save the animals!